Some words are kinda sorta interchangeable. Or not. Depending on the person using them.
If you want to get super technical, I suppose you could define decluttering, tidying, and cleaning like this:
Decluttering – removing clutter from a space
Tidying – moving things back into place and improving the general appearance of an area
Cleaning – eliminating dirt or other grime from a surface
But most of the time, I don’t care about being technical. I just need to get things done. So whichever word helps me get started is the one I use for that day’s inner monologue.
Like with this mess:
On a day when I’m feeling on top of things, I clean that right up. It’s part of cleaning the kitchen. Things get put away and the dishrag comes out.
On a day when I’m not quite at the top of my game, I tidy it. I talk to myself and remind on-the-edge-of-overwhelmed me that this isn’t actually an overwhelming mess. A few things are out of place and a little shifting and straightening will be worth my time.
But on a day when this one space is the tip of my clutter iceberg and it’s hard to even focus because I’m so overwhelmed by the house or by life or by sheer exhaustion from non-house-related things, I declutter. That’s how I, personally, work through feeling overwhelmed and work through the mess.
When I’m decluttering, I know from experience that the feeling of being overwhelmed will go away (or at least lessen) as I go step by the step through the mess. I start with the trash and feel a little better. I ask myself what’s easy, put those things away, and my breathing starts to feel a little more natural. If I get stuck (whether because the item I’m stuck on is actually stick-worthy or I’m just dazed), I ask myself the first decluttering question and keep on working.
Here’s the thing. I love words. I love re-framing situations. I love shifting my thinking and considering nuance to help me make progress. And I’m giving you permission to do the same thing.
Whatever you need to say in your own personal pep talk, say it. As long as it gets better, you’re good.
The only thing that isn’t okay is seeing a mess that drives you bananas, acknowledging that you need to work through it, and then not working through it because you know someone else wouldn’t be as overwhelmed as you and would use a different vocabulary word.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s a thing. A totally ridiculous thing.
It’s letting “Why is this so hard for me?” be the last line of the story.
“Why is this so hard for me?” is a totally legitimate line for the middle of the story. It could even be the turning point. But a story that stops there is one that has no ending.
And no one likes a story with no ending.
Do whatever you have to do to make progress in your home. Talk to yourself in whatever terms you need to use to help yourself understand what has to be done.
“Decluttering” a space that someone else would “just clean up” isn’t failing. Not doing anything is failing.
Note: I use my decluttering strategies on everything. On all the piles, even the appeared-in-one-day ones. It works for me. In my newest book, Decluttering at the Speed of Life, I teach my five step process and apply that process to all the areas of your home. I also address the hangups you have when dealing with messes, no matter how small or large. You can get it here.
Great post, as always! While reading it, a quote came to my mind: “The problem with doing nothing is that you never know when you are finished!”
Alexa Kvande says
I love your blog and books. And I need the reminders and the tips when my house is out of control. I have ADHD. I am on the Attention Deficit end of the spectrum, not the Hyperactive end. While I am very successful in my career, I am messy and the organization of things is difficult for me. I often don’t see the mess until it is overwhelming. I was not diagnosed until I was older. It has taken a long time to accept that my brain works differently. Your blog and books have helped me improve and improvement is good! You have also helped me realize that having a brain that works differently is OK too. Thanks
Peggy, me too!
I am in this category too Peggy – Dana’s approach makes organization with ADHD much more approachable.
It is always nice to know we are not alone!
Organization Junkie says
These are great tips! Thank you for all your wonderful posts that you have about organizing.
Susan Kaplan says
As of today, the ebook is $9.99.
Dana White says
Ugh. I changed it. But thanks for reminding me that was in this post.
unless it’s your one rest day that week, or you have chronic health issues and your doctors have begged you not to push too hard. Then doing nothing is not a failure, but a victory over the mean voices in your head, I think. 🙂
Excellent! I’m starting to believe that changing my internal narrative is as important as any tasks I complete — maybe because I complete so many more tasks if I can change the narrative! Thank you!
Terri Smith says
This could not have come at a better time, I’m moving and this talking to myself thing sounds just like what I should do…. thanks Dana as always right on target!!!
Debi Z says
This is a great post! But I need to know a couple of things. Where did you put the honey and what is the red cup with the scoop? What’s the scoop on that LOL
Mary Lu says
Yea, I used to burn the candle at both ends. One night I was really tired, eyelids drooping, but I just told myself I can’t leave this pan for tomorrow. (Which truth be told, usually if I leave a pan, my husband will clean it). And as I was balancing it on the edge of the sink, I dropped it on my toes. Oh, I forgot to mention it’s a 12 inch cast iron pans. Well, it took a Long time to recover because I walked funny while the toe hurt, messed up the alignment of my knee, then could barely walk, after misdiagnosis of arthritis and physical therapy that didn’t help, finally got diagnosed properly and different physical therapy. But this took years. I’m doing better now, even able to kneel in church again (since I’m Catholic, we do a lot of that!) But I hope I learned my lesson of listening to my body when it really needs to rest.
Dodi Schmidgall says
I’m 80 years old now and don’t have the energy I once did. The other day I was out sweeping up in the garage – did what I thought was the worst part, didn’t do the whole garage. On my way back inside the house I found myself saying, “not perfect, but better”.
OMG, I just love you! Where on earth have you been all my life????
Elizabeth Brown says
In Hebrew tradition the action comes first, the faith follows. Thoughts follow actions for sure. So often I get backwards, I forget this truth. I think I’ve got to get my thinking straight before acting, but the acting itself straightens out my thinking. So crazy how it works. Not to mention moving ones body releases chemical like serotonin and dopamine–happy hormones that negate the cortisol and adrenaline of stress and anxiety. Just moving helps me feel better. And the progressively clean and ordered space is calming and energizing too. Now I have a blank canvas again. I can create beauty.